Mozilla boss resignation: 'the right thing happened, but at what cost'

People got very excited when Brendan Eich was appointed as CEO of the Firefox maker last week. They're getting even more excited now he's resigned.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 20 Nov 2014

Here MT is, brain the size of a planet, and it still can’t figure out the ‘pretzel logic’ surrounding the resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. To wit: a company that prides itself on its inclusiveness has just displayed decidedly non-inclusive characteristics by pressuring someone whom it employed in a spirit of inclusiveness to resign over his non-inclusive views. Geddit? Nope, neither do we.

The story, in a nutshell, is this: last week Firefox maker Mozilla promoted Brendan Eich from chief technology officer to chief executive. Everyone was very excited, because it was promoting from within, rather than the usual Silicon Valley tactic of bringing in someone with an MBA but no real idea how a technology firm works.

Then, someone discovered that back in 2008 Eich had made a $1,000 donation to the Proposition 8 campaign, which supported a measure to ban gay marriage. That’s a bit like the chief executive of a major Brighton-based company supporting the campaign against gay marriage over here. It was never going to end well.

The ethics surrounding this are mind-boggling. On one hand, Mozilla is one of those companies founded on principles of free speech and openness that encourages everyone to be different. On the other, it’s based in San Francisco’s Bay Area, aka the gay capital of the universe, and let’s be honest: it’s not the kind of behaviour one would expect from a tech company.

The crux of the matter is that Eich wouldn’t apologise: Hampton Catlin and Michael Lintorn Catlin, a married couple who are also app developers, were the ones to bring Eich’s donation to notoriety. They asked him to apologise – but in the event his statement was rather effusive, mumbling something about ‘active commitment to equality’, ‘my personal commitment to work on new initiatives to reach out to those who feel excluded’ and ‘my sorrow at having caused pain’ (the full statement is here).

As Hampton Catlin pointed out in a blog post, at no point did he actually say sorry.

‘I met with Brendan and asked him to just apologise for the discrimination under the law that we faced. He can still keep his personal beliefs, but I wanted him to recognise that we faced real issues with immigration and say that he never intended to cause people problems. It’s heartbreaking to us that he was unwilling to say even that.’

Most Silicon Valley-ites are calling this a moral victory (Catlin called it ‘the worst kind of victory’), but it does raise questions over whether people should lose their jobs because of their political views. Some would argue that it may affect his decision-making when it comes to promotions or employment – but in his statement, Eich seemed determined to be even minded.

Should intolerance be tolerated? In this case, it’s only up to the point when it becomes a public issue – ie. when an employee steps into a high-profile role. At that point, it’s hard to reconcile private views with a public position.

Either way, we’ll leave the last word to jquery creator John Resig:

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